If you’ve ever felt like your partner is listening but not really “hearing” when you talk, you’re not alone. He or she may even feel the same way about you.
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It’s a common pattern that couples fall into, especially if they’ve been together for a long time. It’s easy to fall into bad habits and not communicate properly, especially when it comes to listening.
One typical scenario is when you’re talking about an issue in your personal life and your partner listens for a bit but then goes into what you should do about it. You may have done the same to your partner when they tried to talk about something with you. That’s not how you’d handle a conversation about a problem with a friend or acquaintance, but it’s easy to slip into that mode when the person speaking is your partner, a person you love. Your first instinct is to try to “fix” their problem, but in reality, your partner just wants to vent or receive support.
Over time, this pattern can become destructive to the relationship, even if it’s borne of good intentions. You want to help your partner, but you are also uncomfortable with seeing them upset, so your natural instinct is to try to solve the problem immediately, even if that is not what they are looking for. This can leave your partner feeling unheard and unsupported, which is not a good thing for any relationship. really listening is a skill and should be given the attention it deserves.
Luckily, you break this cycle by communicating with your partner about non-relationship issues in a more mindful way, in which you are completely present and engaged for them instead of focused on just offering solutions right away. Here, we’ll call it “holding the box.” Check out the following eight hints to learn how this works and enjoy more mindful communication with your partner, starting today!
1. Schedule Box-Holding Time With Your Partner
You’re the “box loader” if you’ve got a non-relationship issue you want to talk over with your partner. Acknowledge your dynamic role here, and ask your partner to speak with you with the intention of trying more mindful communication out. If they can’t talk to you right away, schedule a time over the next day or so to talk about it. Essentially, you want to avoid dumping on your partner all at once without a warning, as they may have things of their own going on and become overwhelmed by what you’re adding. Allow them to do the same with you, so you’re both setting aside time specifically to discuss non-relationship problems.
2. Remember The “Box Holder” Is The Listener
The box holder’s job is to simply listen, so try some visualization techniques. Imagine there is an empty box between you and your partner, and the person speaking is filling the box with their words. This mental picture can help the box holder stay more neutral instead of picking up the emotions of the box loader, which is what usually leads to the desire to offer solutions instead of lending a supportive ear.
3. Box Loaders: Speak Your Mind, But Within Reason
It’s totally fine for a box loader to say whatever is on their mind, but don’t go on for too long. The box holder, despite their best efforts, might end up emotionally overwhelmed if the conversation drags on and on. If you feel yourself pushing boundaries or draining your partner as the box loader, it may be time to end the conversation, as it’s unlikely to be productive or very beneficial.
4. Box Holders: The Words Are Going Into The Box, Not You
One useful technique for box holders is to visualize the box loader’s words going into the box and not into them. Box holders need to prevent themselves from becoming entangled in their partner’s emotions, as that is what leads to discomfort and the urge to fix the problem instead of just listening and being supportive. Keep yourself as emotionally neutral as possible so you don’t get caught up in your partner’s feelings, as that can also take your focus off their words at a time when they really need you to listen.
5. Box Holders Should Listen But Limit Identification
As a box holder, your job is to be attentive and listen, so your partner feels your support and presence. Keep in mind that you are there to hear and contact your partner’s feelings, but you’re not necessarily going to gain a thorough understanding of what is going on. You can ask a handful of questions for clarification if you feel it’s necessary, but try to limit what you ask. If it helps, remind yourself you are there to listen to your partner and offer support, not offer a detailed solution to their problem.
6. Discuss Solutions If Necessary
Once the box loader is finished, both the box holder and loader can talk about solutions, but only if the box loader wants to do so. If the box loader doesn’t want to talk about solutions, the topic should be closed for now. The biggest benefit of this, besides honoring the box loader’s feelings, is that it prevents the subject from taking over entire parts of the day. Dragging out the topic can be exhausting for both you and your partner, so it should be allowed to die at the appropriate time.
7. Contact The Box Loader’s Emotions
After the box loader is done speaking, the box holder should acknowledge their feelings so the box loader feels the support and that they were listened to. For example, as a box holder, you could say, “I understand why you feel so angry” or “Wow, that sounds really frustrating” to illustrate and affirm you were listening to your partner’s words and understanding their feelings. This is a very important step, as it allows your partner, the box loader, to get what they were looking for: a feeling of being heard and supported.
8. Wait For Permission Before Offering Solutions
As discussed above, you can offer solutions as a box holder after the box loader is finished speaking. However, don’t just jump into solutions right away. You must get permission from the box loader before you start talking about potential fixes for whatever was covered. If your partner was simply looking to be heard and receive support from you, they may not want to talk about solutions right now or at all, and you need to honor their feelings on the subject.
Be more mindful in your non-relationship problem discussions with your partner to foster a stronger sense of connection, understanding and support between the two of you, and encourage your partner to do the same. As the both of you become more comfortable with this technique, you may not even need the box visualizations anymore, but continue to use them as needed!